A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Poem of the Day: Edna St. Vincent Millay

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. 
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned 
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. 

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust. 
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew, 
A formula, a phrase remains, -- but the best is lost. 

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, --
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled 
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve. 
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world. 

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave 
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; 
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. 
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay

I suppose the only Millay poem that anyone knows anymore is this one:
First Fig

My candle burns at both ends; 
     It will not last the night; 
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -- 
     It gives a lovely light! 
And maybe that's as it should be. Millay was not a great poet, being more given to attitude than to originality of thought and expression. About today's poem, you want to tell her that nobody's asking her to approve. The tone is that of a Vassar grad living in Greenwich Village, which she was. And yet, as an expression of a particular era, the 1920s, it's an almost perfect poem. Not for all time, but of an age, to reverse the formula. And the more valuable for being that.    

1 comment:

Cudo said...

"Not for all time, but for an age" - that may well be. But there are poems like "Lament" and "Childhood is the Kingdom where Nobody Dies" which are (to me, at least) quite moving. They seem to be beyond attitude, or, if there is still an attitude, it´s the attitude of someone who tries to face disaster honestly, without posing.